Certainly, there were a number of reasons to vote one way or another in the 2008 election, but the major party candidates presented a clear choice when it came to energy and environmental policy. On the one hand, there was "Drill, baby, drill"...and on the other hand, there was -- is -- an historic investment in renewable energy and energy efficiency and a plan to counteract global warming and...(let us stop here before we start gushing).
For choosing Barack Obama and the promise of green jobs, renewable energy and energy efficiency, rather than the same old fossil fuel dependence and pollution, a majority of American voters deserve a Heart of Green.
If you were to single out one person for elevating the phrase "green jobs" (early favorite for 2009 Phrase of the Year?) to its prominent place in the political discourse, it would be Van Jones.
A self-made man in the modern American tradition, Van Jones turned a career as a community organizer in Oakland, Calif., into a revolution. He saw that the best way to elevate minority communities out of poverty wasn't to fight piecemeal to keep youth out of prison, but to create sustainable jobs that offered them a better future. He became a one-man advocacy machine -- an inspiration to the poor and out of work, an ally to Washington power brokers and an author to the masses. (The Green Collar Economy: How One Solution Can Fix America's Two Biggest Problems. Read it.) Now, President Obama, Congress and a club of prominent economists are banking on green jobs as an antidote to the banking crisis. Jones has even been appointed as a special adviser to the White House on the subject -- a first-of-its-kind position.
That's right: Green jobs -- not the phrase, but the real world caulking-and-insulating, solar panel-manufacturing, hybrid car-building jobs -- might just save us from the worst economic collapse since the Great Depression. Heart of Green. Heart of gold. We heartily say, yes.
The Polar Bear
The threat of global warming has felt real, acute and terrifying for years...to number-crunching scientific policy wonks and bug-loving environmentalists. But there was something about the image of a once-robust white bear, unnaturally skinny and swimming in a suddenly ice-free ocean, that woke up the masses. This wasn't just about ice melting, but about life on Earth.
There, in the form of something almost cuddly and somewhat human-shaped, was a real symbol for the changes we are inflicting on our entire globe by simply going about the business we thought of as innocent: driving, heating and cooling our homes, powering our cell phones, plugging in our flat screen TVs....By the end of 2008, even President Bush, a notoriously -- let us say -- skeptical player in the real world global warming drama, had declared the polar bear endangered (even if his Administration expressly said that the prime cause of its endangerment, global warming, could not be addressed by the Endangered Species Act).
For reminding us that global warming is a near-and-present danger, the now iconic polar bear deserves a Heart of Green. Let's hope we have a chance to pin some prize to it while it still lives in the wild.
Wildfires are bad. Global warming is bad. But connecting the two? Oddly, good.
Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger may be leading California during its worst financial crisis, but he hasn't used that as an excuse to go soft on environmental protection. The action hero continues to talk tough, reminding Californians (can't you just hear him saying it?) that global warming is producing increasingly powerful droughts, heat waves, pest invasions and extreme lightning storms -- all of which contribute to year-round fire risk.
That's something scientists have been telling us for some time. But to hear it from the Governator drives the point home to a wider audience. If he paints the risk in a cinematic way, all the better. As has been the case in the past, California is leading the rest of the nation in many environmental initiatives. Perhaps as critical as any policy is Schwarzenegger's relentless connecting of the dots -- from carbon emissions to global warming to local drought, water shortages and wildfires. For that, he deserves a Heart of Green.
New York City
Does New York City really need another distinction? I mean, already it's a big fruit....Some say it's the capital of the world....Its most famous street has already been blamed for the collapse of the global economy....(Hmmm, no wonder it doesn't sleep.)
So, maybe NYC could use a little boost. And, anyway, the city deserves accolades for its efforts to go green. Mayor Mike Bloomberg's PlaNYC is that rarest of political beasts: A long-term vision for sustainability that involves real investment, real sacrifice and promises real results. It was among the first and most comprehensive green city plans of its kind, and remains among the most ambitious. Ambitious, you scoff? Yeah, ambitious like planting a million trees, charging drivers for the privilege of traveling downtown (despite political odds, it still could happen, like a third Bloomberg term) and closing down vehicular traffic in Times Square to create an urban pedestrian park in the midst of the neon glow. Oh, and don't expect to grease up at the local McDonald's while you're visiting, either, because the city has banned trans fats, and requires fast-food joints to post calorie counts to discourage unhealthy eating.
But it doesn't stop there. As any New Yorker knows, the heart of the city isn't in its government, but in its people. And New York is home to some of the most innovative and exciting entrepreneurs on the planet. From the eco-entrepreneurs of Brooklyn to Sustainable South Bronx, New York has about 8 million reasons to deserve a Heart of Green.
Rit Aggarwala, the director of the city's Office of Long-Term Planning and Sustainability, accepted a 2009 Heart of Green Award on behalf of the city. Watch his acceptance speech!
Everybody loves a Nobel Prize winner in physics, right? Right? Sadly, the glow of public attention around the average Nobel Prize-winning physicist has a very short half-life, as the public grows suddenly sleepy trying to understand how the whatsamajiggy goes all wizbang. But Stephen Chu is not your run-of-the-mill Nobel Prize-winning physicist. (Ha! Get it? Run-of-the-mill Nobel physicist.)
President Obama's appointment of Chu as Secretary of Energy gave the young administration an air of scientific integrity that lingers on. And Chu has not wasted a breathe since his appointment. He has spoken out forcefully and repeatedly about the dangers of global warming, the need for the U.S. to act decisively to reduce the threat and the essential role of scientific research in yielding new innovations to accomplish that daunting task.
And, thanks to the economic stimulus bill, he's in charge of spending about a gazillion dollars to help us all go green, shoring up our homes, driving electric cars and otherwise improving our energy efficiency. That's a task worthy of a Heart of Green.
But, really, it doesn't take an atomic physicist to solve the nation's energy and economic problems, right? Right?
You know that old punchline: The difference between Canada and yogurt is that...yogurt has a live active culture.
Well, Canada has proved that it has a live active environmental health practice, anyway. It became the first country on Earth to declare Bisphenol A a public health hazard. The estrogen-like chemical has been linked by independent scientists (including one prominent U.S. government panel) to potentially serious health problems, including reproductive and developmental problems, prostate damage, cancer and even diabetes. That's why Canada banned the use of the chemical in baby bottles, sippy cups and other vessels that would deliver a dose to babies, when they are most vulnerable to the effects of chemical exposure.
That's why Canada deserves a Heart of Green award. (You'll notice the U.S. Food and Drug Administration, which has relied on information from industry insiders rather than independent health studies, and which has yet to restrict the use of Bisphenol A in children's products, did not make our list.)
Pope Benedict XVI
When the pope speaks, 1 billion Catholics listen. Teddy Roosevelt may have coined the phrase "bully pulpit" to describe the U.S. presidency, but the Pope still stands on the world's preeminent pulpit.
And like Theodore Roosevelt, Pope Benedict XVI is pioneering a new environmentalism. Whether it's in an Epiphany Day homily urging the faithful to prevent "poisons and pollution" or a warning against the greedy (and unsustainable) pursuit of material goods, he's constantly reminding Catholics to "safeguard creation." He even greened the Vatican!
As congregations of all denominations have taken that "caring for creation" message to heart, a new and necessary political movement has emerged, supporting the hard sacrifices that tackling global warming will require. More accurately, it's a counter-movement, since conservative evangelicals with their own bully pulpits had been among the loudest skeptics of global warming science and environmentalism. His heart may be with God, but for preaching the good green word, Pope Benedict XVI deserves a Heart of Green.
Los Angeles. Smoggy, traffic-clogged Los Angeles. Celebrity-crazed, wack a doo Los Angeles. How could the sprawl capital of the U.S. deserve a Heart of Green award?
First, there's Mayor Antonio Villaraigosa, who launched Green LA in 2007 and has made impressive gains promoting electric cars, tree planting, solar energy, recycling and energy efficiency -- all with the goal of reducing the city's carbon emissions by 35% by 2020. His deputy mayor for environmental matters, Nancy Sutley, is now President Obama's head of the Council on Environmental Quality. She must have been doing something right.
But let's not forget the citizenry of greater Los Angeles. Yes, Hollywood. While producing huge carbon-spewing car chases, fueling America's unsustainable desire for bigger, bolder "stuff," and keeping celebrity tabloids filled with stories of misdeeds, Tinsel Town is also producing readymade spokespeople for environmental protection. Whether it's the venerable Ted Danson soberly testifying before Congress on ocean policy or new driver Miley Cyrus getting paparazzi buzz (and ecorazzi buzz) for trading in an SUV for a hybrid, Hollywood's stars keep bringing attention to green issues that matter.
It's a glitzy city of contradictions, but it's got a Heart of Green.
T. Boone Pickens
T. Boone Pickens knows how to get attention, and that has not always been a good thing for the environment. The billionaire helped bankroll and promote the notorious Swift Boat attack on Sen. John Kerry's Vietnam War record during the 2004 presidential campaign, and few doubt that the environmentally progressive Kerry would have followed the same course on energy and environmental policy that President Bush did in his final term.
But T. (can we call you "T"?) spent a good deal of time during the 2008 election promoting a massive renewable energy plan, also bankrolled by his billions. The plan to build wind turbines across the Western U.S. has fallen victim to the credit crisis, like so much else (and his wind energy plan has been accused by some of being nothing more than a fancy grab at water rights in a region so parched that H2O may become as valuable as oil).
So why does he deserve to be honored? His audience.
He was wind power's evangelical to the conservatives and capitalists of America, arguing in both words and dollars that renewable energy is a smart investment. He may not have a heart of green in the eyes of everyone, but for spreading that message to a reluctant audience, he's earned this recognition.